ARLINGTON, Texas -- Is there a better tonic for an ailing offense than three games in the launching pad that is Globe Life Park against the injury-ravaged Texas Rangers, who have the worst record and pitching staff in the American League?
That question won't be fully answered until Sunday afternoon, but the early returns on a steamy 98-degree Friday evening were, well, mixed.
Kole Calhoun had three hits, including a prodigious tiebreaking three-run home run to right field in the fifth inning, to lead the Angels to a 5-4 victory that moved them to within one game of the Oakland Athletics in the AL West.
Bottom-of-the-order hitters David Freese and Chris Iannetta combined for five hits and four runs scored, both hitting singles in front of Calhoun's homer, to back the superb pitching of Garrett Richards, who allowed two runs and seven hits in 71/3 innings, striking out seven and walking none, to improve to 13-4.
But the heart of the Angels' order is barely beating. No. 2 batter Mike Trout, a candidate for most valuable player, is four for 32 (.125) with two homers and five runs batted in over eight games, though he had a third-inning sacrifice fly Friday. No. 3 hitter Albert Pujols is six for 32 (.188) with three RBIs in eight games.
And cleanup batter Josh Hamilton is four for 34 (.118) with no RBIs in nine games, his average falling from .288 to .266, the peak of his frustration coming when he struck out with the bases to end the ninth inning Friday, his fourth whiff of the game.
"It's going to take one through nine, and right now, the middle is really struggling," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Mike, Albert, Josh, especially Josh, these guys are working hard and not getting production. We need those guys."
Hamilton, in the second year of a five-year, $125-million contract, missed most of April and May because of a torn left-thumb ligament, but he is far removed from that issue, having kept his average above .300 for all of June and early July.
The power, though, is absent. Hamilton, who had 43 homers and 128 RBIs in 2012, his last season at Texas, has eight homers and 35 RBIs in 71 games.
"We're not seeing the aggressive swings, the attacking of the ball, that we saw when Josh played for Texas," Scioscia said. "It just doesn't seem like he's exploding on pitches the way we know he can."
The Angels have averaged 3.4 runs in 26 games since the All-Star break and rank 14th in the league in batting and on-base percentage in that span.
Scioscia tweaked his lineup Friday, flip-flopping Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick in the fifth and sixth spots. Is it time to drop Hamilton out of the cleanup spot?
"You look at the whole lineup, you see what's best for the team, and if it comes to that, it comes to that," Scioscia said. "But right now, we want to play it out. We need Josh in the middle doing what he can do."
One spot Scioscia doesn't have to worry about is leadoff. Calhoun also singled and doubled Friday and is hitting .448 (13 for 29) in his last six games. He's batting .294 with a .348 OBP, .489 slugging percentage, 13 homers, 37 RBIs and 60 runs in 85 games on the season.
"He kind of flies under the radar, but I don't know if there are too many leadoff men as dynamic as Kole," Scioscia said. "He drives the ball, gets on base and scores runs. He's one of the few guys who have held his own while others have struggled."
Calhoun had never hit leadoff before this season, but he took it as a challenge.
"I'm really starting to take it personally." Calhoun said. "I want really badly to get on base, to do what a leadoff guy should do. I really enjoy it now. It was extremely new, but I'm having fun getting on base and trying to spark these guys up."
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